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Cortana brings Cultural Savviness to New Markets

Written By published July 20, 2015

Our team has been working hard on the upcoming launch of Windows 10. For my team, that means building the first digital personal assistant in a way that is truly meaningful to individuals globally. As the Group Program Manager for Cortana, I’m excited to share our plans for rolling out to new markets this year, and provide a behind the scenes look at what it takes to deliver a uniquely personal experience to people all over the world.

As we’ve already announced, on July 29th, Cortana will debut on Windows 10 in seven countries: the U.S., UK, China, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Today we’re announcing that over the coming months, Cortana will be available to customers in the Windows Insider Program in Japan and Australia, and in English in Canada and India. Later this year, Cortana will also be available to Windows Insiders in Brazil and Mexico, and in French in Canada.

Cortana is Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, designed to help you quickly manage your life and easily get things done on your Windows 10 PC, tablet, and phone. Designing an intelligent personal assistant for new markets requires abandoning a “one size fits all” approach and instead requires embracing thoughtful local customization that takes into account what is important in each individual country and culture.

Cortana’s development for new markets

It is truly a fascinating process to see Cortana evolve for each market. We approach each market rollout with extensive focus groups that answer, “What’s important in a personal assistant in this market?” Based on these research results, we then assemble a local team of creative writers, editors, programmers and voice talent to build a relevant, tailored experience.

Voice talent is carefully considered for each market. For example, in the Chinese market, the feedback requested a personal assistant whose voice sounded like she was smiling. And in UK, customers described their personal assistant as an “English Rose,” which translated to a voice that sounds easy-going, with slightly self-deprecating modesty. In each market, we focus in on certain key attributes that help us find the right voice talent for Cortana.

Cortana is customized to reflect the local language, idioms and speech patterns of each country. We craft Cortana’s local personality based on insights about each culture while at the same time staying true to the foundational principles that are universal to all markets: Cortana is positive, confident, intelligent and transparent.

What’s important about this work is that Cortana’s main job is to help each individual to complete tasks. We do extensive research in each market on speech recognition training and understanding local language models so Cortana can understand speech input. We also ensure functionality fits the local market’s needs. For example, in China we understand how important air quality is to local residents, so part of Cortana’s job is to track data on air quality and actively provide that information to customers in China.

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Cortana’s personality, locally tuned

Our research has shown that aspects of personality such as humor, politeness and approach to national identity resonate differently in different Cortana markets.

For example, Cortana understands how highly the UK values self-deprecating humor. Dryness and irony are traits that filter subtly into her personality, and she uses playful sarcasm in her responses if she senses you’re fooling around.

In Italy, Cortana is proud of national identity. Cortana will use words like “our” in responses to customers, and even sings the national anthem when asked to sing a song.

Cortana is also aware of important cultural touchstones in each market. In France, Cortana celebrates the Cannes Film Festival. In Canada, Cortana loves hockey, and in India, Cortana celebrates cricket star and national hero Sachin Tendulkar.

And in Japan, a high level of politeness is valued; Cortana will bow by default.

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Cortana’s local personality is especially apparent in common questions customers ask: “Do you dream?”, “Tell me a joke” and “Tell me a story” have delightfully relevant answers across markets.

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We are thrilled to share this latest expansion with you and invite you to experience how Cortana embraces the mission to be a truly personal digital assistant in different parts of the world. Our goal with Cortana is to deliver a culturally relevant, approachable and helpful assistant as part of a great experience on Windows 10 devices.